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Gays hit back at Vatican

'We don't want the Holy See to make pressure on our parliament'

Gay rights groups protest against the Catholic church's stance in the Vatican.
Gay rights groups protest against the Catholic church's stance in the Vatican.

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VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- Gay rights groups have hit back at the Vatican's global campaign against same-sex marriages, saying the appeal reflects a mix of religion and politics that is out of touch with the modern world.

On Thursday, the Vatican issued a 12-page document in seven languages, approved by Pope John Paul II, calling on Roman Catholic lawmakers to block legislation granting legal rights to homosexual unions in Europe and North America.

The document, which was two years in the making, urged Catholics to campaign against same-sex unions, which the Vatican sees as a threat to society and "gravely immoral."

The paper, entitled "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons" also makes clear the church's firm opposition to gay couples adopting children.

"Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such (homosexual) unions would actually mean doing violence to these children ... (placing) them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development," it says.

While conservatives around the world welcomed the document, in Rome's gay community, the reaction was swift, with activists saying there is widespread concern the Vatican is using its considerable influence to spread homophobia and prejudice into Italian society.

"We are Italian citizens and not Vatican citizens so we don't want the Holy See to make pressure on our parliament," one Radical Party member told CNN.

Gay rights supporters from Australia to England were quick to say they thought the Vatican was using an aggressive and cold-hearted stance to promote intolerance and stem a growing tide for equal rights.

For its part the Catholic church stresses the document does not promote discrimination against homosexual relationships, but instead says same-sex unions are not the same as marriages that "bring new human beings into the world."

Heated debate

"Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior ... but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity," the document said.

The Vatican appeal comes amid heated debate on the issue in the United States, after the Supreme Court struck down state laws banning sodomy in June and two U.S. states come closer to legalizing homosexual marriages.

While gay marriage is forbidden in the United States, Vermont allows same-sex civil unions while Massachusetts' top court is set to rule on the issue soon. (Ruling anticipated)

The United States passed a law in 1996, called the defense of marriage act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages licensed in individual states, or abroad, and the White House is considering backing an amendment to strengthen the traditional definition of marriage as man and woman.

The Vatican document has the backing of Pope John Paul II.
The Vatican document has the backing of Pope John Paul II.

Earlier this week U.S. President George W. Bush made his views quite clear, saying he believed "marriage is between a man and a woman." (Marriage 'for heterosexuals', White House considering constitutional amendment)

Gay activists in America have slammed the Vatican document, saying they are upset because it breaks down efforts to keep the Church and the State separate and puts religious beliefs ahead of other arguments. (Episcopalians face divisive issue of gays at convention)

The Vatican's document is an example of an individual denomination trying to instill its thoughts on political and legislative policies, Cathy Renna, spokeswoman for the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation told CNN.

Canada, Netherlands and Belgium now allow gay marriage and Britain is considering civil unions.

In Europe, the Netherlands has recognized registered gay partnerships since 1998 with Belgium following suit in January this year.

The Netherlands also passed laws in December 2000 allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.

Several other countries have given gays rights just short of those enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.

CNN's Andrew Carey in London contributed to this report.

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